1928 - 1987
Mao (F. & S. II.92)
screenprint on Beckett High White paper
on verso signed, editioned 244/250 and stamped © Andy Warhol, 1972, printed at Styria Studio Inc.
36 x 36 in 91.4 x 91.4 cm
Estimate: $30,000 - $40,000
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Castelli Graphics, New York
Private Collection, Montreal
Sold sale of Fine International Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, October 27, 2011, lot 124
Private Collection, Toronto
Victor Bockris, The Life and Death of Andy Warhol, 1989, pages 266 and 278
Frayda Feldman and Jörg Schellman, editors, Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1962 - 1987, 4th edition, 2003, reproduced page 82, catalogue #II.92
Pop artist Andy Warhol was the master of the cool, ironic take on commercial culture and contemporary celebrity worship. In 1972, US president Richard Nixon traveled to China, ending years of diplomatic isolation for the two countries, a historic event that captured Warhol’s imagination (however, Warhol was not a supporter of Nixon, having contributed financial support to the McGovern campaign in 1972). Also, Warhol had read in a newspaper that the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung was the most famous living person. Consequently, he began to produce paintings and serigraphs of Mao. He chose to base this serigraph, from a portfolio of 10 images, on the iconic cover photograph on the book Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, the “little red book” that was the cornerstone of Maoist ideology. It was an image seen everywhere in China, but also in the West. As Victor Bockris wrote, “What better image for 1972 than the revolutionary chic of Chairman Mao?”
The serigraphs vary in their colouration, demonstrating Warhol’s interest in serialization. The intensity of Warhol’s colour transformed this close-up of Mao’s somewhat inscrutable face into an attractive, fashionable image, through the use of blue across the lips and outlines of the face, and the pale blue tunic, an image altogether at odds with Mao’s ideology. When compared to some of the other prints in the portfolio, Mao’s expression is clear, not blocked by heavy pigmentation. Warhol added squiggles drawn on his screens and loosely applied colour areas around the face to give a more stylish appearance – and as Bockris related, “The ‘hand-painted look,’ he declared, was now ‘in fashion.’ ”
Carter Ratcliff, an American art critic and writer, noted insightfully: “Having arrived at the upper levels of the consumer worlds…Warhol opened his art to an icon from China, a nation dedicated to eradicating whatever vestiges of bourgeois consumerism might linger in its citizens…Warhol showed uncanny acuteness in introducing the Mao image into his art at a time when the artist himself was just coming to enjoy, full-scale, the benefits of Western ‘decadence.’ ” The production of this portfolio drew a parallel between capitalist advertising and the political agitprop used during Mao’s rule, when mass-produced propaganda posters were widely displayed in China. Henry Geldzahler, curator of contemporary art at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, commented, “The irony that is obvious and front-row centre in these images is the fact that they are produced cheaply to be sold dearly by an artist in the capitalistic capital of the world.”
Warhol also made paintings of this subject—prior to 1972, the paintings came before the prints, but starting with Mao, prints and paintings were executed simultaneously. He produced more than 2,000 Mao paintings in various sizes, finishing them in three months. In February 1974, he showed the majority of them in a spectacular installation at Musée Galliera in Paris.
After Mao’s death in 1976, and the end of the Cultural Revolution, artist groups emerged in China, for example The Stars, a group including Ai Weiwei, now a renowned international artist. These artists viewed Warhol’s 1972 serigraph of Mao as an important reference in their re-evaluation of the iconography of Communism. In 1982, Warhol made a trip to China, and his presence there was exciting for Beijing’s avant-garde. He took many photographs, some of which recorded his delight in encountering the city’s artists.
Mao is one of Warhol’s most iconic serigraphs. It marked an important moment in his work when, on the surface, he turned from the subject of the mass culture celebrity and chose a more political theme. However, Mao, who forged his own image as the ultimate political icon, was like a Communist counterpart of a Pop icon! Warhol’s insights into mass culture were brilliant, and he understood the impact and power of this image.
This screenprint is from a portfolio of 10 images of Mao published in 1972 by Castelli Graphics and Multiples Inc., New York, and printed by Styria Studio Inc., New York. The catalogue raisonné states that the edition size is 250, with 50 APs.
Estimate: $30,000 - $40,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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